This summer we have a tree in our sanctuary, and every week we are hanging a different fruit from the tree. Every week we are exploring a different fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Preaching in series is something relatively new to me; I'm preaching some old scripture verses in a new context, and preaching some Bible stories I've never preached on before as well.
Last week our theme was joy. The fruit of the Spirit is Joy. And the text that I chose (usually read during Epiphany in my tradition) was from Nehemiah 8. And of course the verse itself is so well-known, although most people don't know the story surrounding the verses. "The Joy of the Lord is your strength."
I've seen it on plaques.
I've heard it in songs.
But not really thought much about it.
One of the things i do these days (that I never have done before) is find images for the sermon. We have projection in my congregation, and I look for pictures and sometimes for words that I can put up on the screen. And I was looking for this verse, "The Joy of the Lord is your strength", and what was interesting to me is that, for the most part, I found this verse on line: "The Joy of the Lord is my strength."
It made me think. Those pesky pronouns. I thought, of COURSE when Ezra is speaking to the people, he is going to say, The Joy of the Lord is YOUR strength." But what does he mean? Does he mean that the joy of the Lord is your strength as an individual believer? Or does he mean that the joy of the Lord is your strength as a part of a community of believers?
Does it even matter?
Those pesky pronouns. I was recently reminded in a Bible study that faith is an individual matter. No one can believe for someone else. We each stand before God on our own. No one else's good word can get us in. (Okay, except Jesus'. That one doesn't really work.)
It's true; no one else can believe for us. Except that I catch myself thinking about the times when I went to worship, with all of my doubts, and said the creed along with all of the other believers. Somehow their faith made me stronger. Maybe we can believe for one another sometimes.
And maybe the joy of the Lord is not my possession or yours, but it is the gift of the Spirit to the community of faith. it is the Spirit that doesn't just live in our hearts, but it is the Spirit that also lives in our community, where we share joy and sorrow, fruit both bitter and sweet, and good.
On Sunday morning, I took out a small bottle of bubbles to show joy. But I wasn't very good at blowing bubbles, and the six year old girl sitting next to me said, 'You're doing it too fast!" Then she showed me how to blow a bubble properly.
And the joy of the Lord was our strength.